When Daybreak’s Columbus Nova fiasco and layoffs were hitting last month, most of the company’s MMORPGs resurfaced without missing a beat, reassuring their playerbases that the patches would continue and the titles would see ongoing support. That wasn’t the case for the survival half of the original H1Z1 known as Just Survive. The lack of communication and information had prompted many players to assume the game would be “Landmarked” – that is, finally released from early access/beta to earn a little launch money and then quietly sunsetted.
But late last night, Daybreak finally tossed its fans on Reddit a bone. Technical Director Mitch Evans apologized for the silence, saying that he still has a “small yet passionate team” working on the game.
“Right now, we are focused on making sure you continue to enjoy the game, so the majority of our resources are spent mostly on maintaining game stability, fixing game-breaking bugs, and improving anti-cheat methods,” he writes.
MMOs and politics once again collide this week as last night CNN broke the news that Robert Mueller’s FBI team has zeroed in on Russian oligarch and Renova Group chairman Viktor Vekselberg as part of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian election interference, questioning Vekselberg about money Renova’s US “affiliate” transferred to US President Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen. (Tangentially, those allegations were brought to light by Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti.)
And the name of that US affiliate under investigation? Yeah, it’s Columbus Nova, the firm that claimed it acquired MMORPG studio Daybreak back in 2015. Here we go again.
“FBI agents asked Vekselberg about payments his company’s American affiliate, Columbus Nova, made to Cohen, according to one source,” CNN reports. “The Russian was questioned as well about $300,000 in political donations by Andrew Intrater, Vekselberg’s American cousin who is the head of Columbus Nova, sources said.” Columbus Nova claimed to CNN that it is “owned and controlled by Americans”; it further denies any use of “Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments” to Cohen.
How about those Red Sox? Seriously, that’s a conversation I’d rather be having than the one that has cropped up this week — and I don’t even follow the Red Sox. Instead, we’ve got the Columbus Nova fiasco and Daybreak’s disasterous response. I feel as if I am witnessing my favorite game studio hang itself.
As I sit here watching as this story all unfolds, I almost wonder if I’ve stumbled into some crazy movie plot or scripted prank show. Is this seriously happening? It doesn’t seem real, and yet here we are; I’m right with you, following each new step in the saga as it happens. Sadly, in this narrative there are no winners, only losers. The studio, the developers, the players, the industry — we’re all losers. No matter how this ultimately turns out, much damage has been done. The hopes that my favorite game will continue are crashing and burning alongside the last vestiges of trust I had in my favorite studio. How did it come to this? These are my thoughts and feelings as a long-time fan on the matter, basically my WTF reaction to it all.
On this special edition of the podcast, Justin and Bree lay out the Daybreak fiasco, taking you through the events of the last three days, and contemplating the future for this once-great studio.
It’s the Massively OP Podcast, an action-packed hour of news, tales, opinions, and gamer emails! And remember, if you’d like to send in your own letter to the show, use the “Tips” button in the top-right corner of the site to do so.
Listen to the show right now:
Daybreak has now confirmed the layoffs, and we’ve got lots more information from our own sources – see below for updates and context.
Multiple game industry veterans are discussing layoffs at Daybreak today. H1Z1 UI Software Engineer Grat Crabtree says he was among those let go.
Over the last couple of days, we’ve been covering the Daybreak scandal – specifically, how concerns over the impact of government sanctions on Daybreak’s parent companies would affect the games, which spiraled into Daybreak publicly denying that it was ever owned by the company it said repeatedly bought it in 2015 and scrubbing its website and wikipedia of references to Columbus Nova’s acquisition. We’ve all watched on, eyes wide, dutifully recording gaslighting in progress.
But then I have that luxury: I don’t play any Daybreak games and haven’t played any of them seriously since SOE shuttered the best MMORPG ever made. So I can look at the whole situation as the dumpster fire it is, and not as the doom of my favorite MMO, since it already killed that.
Many of you are not in my position. You play DCUO, EverQuest II, PlanetSide 2, even EverQuest. You might even be playing H1Z1, although that’s less likely if you’re reading Massively OP. Or maybe the Standing Stone games Daybreak publishes, LOTRO and DDO, are your thing, and you’re not convinced by yesterday’s vague Twitch sidenote that everything’s probably fine. You are watching on in horror, wondering what will happen to your MMO homes if Daybreak implodes. You might even be pretty sure the games will be OK but aren’t so sure you want to put your own money into the mess.
Yesterday, Massively OP put together a piece on MMO company Daybreak Games Company and its corporate overlords, chronicling the US government’s asset freeze of Russian megacorp Renova on down the chain to its subsidiary Columbus Nova, which has for three years been the nominal owner of Daybreak since it parted ways with Sony and dropped the SOE name.
The twist? When reached for comment on the story, Daybreak informed the editors of Massively OP that our understanding of Daybreak’s ownership was in error. Stunning the MMORPG community and beyond, the company spokesperson insisted it had “no affiliation with Columbus Nova” and that former Columbus Nova rep Jason Epstein “is and has always been the primary owner and executive chairman of Daybreak Game Company” since its founding in February of 2015. When pushed for clarification, Daybreak told us that the “distinction was never corrected in the past, so [it is] correcting that now.”
Note: We’ve updated this piece heavily at the end with Daybreak’s statements and further links.
A chain of business connections could have a real and dire impact on Daybreak Games Company following the freezing of company assets by the U.S. government.
On April 6th, the U.S. Department of the Treasury targeted several Russian oligarchs and froze their assets due to “destabilizing activities” by these figures (including suspected interference in the 2016 U.S. election). One of the oligarchs so punished was Viktor Vekselberg, who owns the Renova Group conglomerate and its subsidiary, Columbus Nova. [Eds.: Daybreak began disputing this part as of April 27th; see updates below.]
Columbus Nova, you may recall, is the parent company of Daybreak Games. The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control has given Renova and other Russian companies until June 5th to “wind down operations, contracts, or other agreements” involving these figures.
I may be disappointed with the lack of caring I feel is being shown to EverQuest II players by Daybreak/Columbus Nova, but that doesn’t mean I have stopped caring. I still do, even if I’m saddened. Thankfully, there are still EQII happy thoughts. And those happy thoughts are strong now! What better way to lift my spirits than with the festival celebrating my favorite holiday ever? Nights of the Dead has returned to Norrath, and I am going to revel in the glorious spookiness and collect all the goodies to adorn myself and my homes. I am celebrating Halloween in true Norrathian style, and you can too.
After years of growing, there’s so much to do and so much to get in this festival that it’s a good thing we have until Friday, November 3rd, at 2:59 a.m EDT to mummy-wrap everything up! With so much, where do you start? An awesome part about the Nights of the Dead event is that you don’t have to start at any one particular place; you can participate from pretty much anywhere (collecting candies), and even better, at any level (most quests scale). A reminder mail sent to everyone in-game points out where major event activities are transpiring, but it’s still easy to miss something. To help ensure you don’t miss out on any old or new content, here’s a guide to 2017’s Nights of the Dead.
Are we witnessing the death throes of EverQuest II? Of the whole EverQuest franchise? These questions have been at the forefront of my mind lately. Today’s EverQuesting started as a guide to EQII’s expansion prelude event, but I kept coming back to these questions. (The guide will come next week!)
Yes, I know that there are folks who have cried that EQ and EQII have been dying or all-but dead for years — and Next and Online Adventures are already deceased and buried. Yet during those years we’ve still seen some life in the first two games. They have persevered!
But now, I feel like I am witnessing the franchise’s final breaths. Me, the eternal optimist; me, who subsists on hope. And I started losing that hope because Daybreak’s actions lately appear to indicate that there’s no love left for one of my all-time favorite games, EQII. Between less dev interaction, less content, less communication, and just less enthusiasm for these two titles — yet a preponderance of attention on others — it’s hard to hold onto hope. At no other time has it felt as if Daybreak was turning its back on and all but abandoning the IP that gave it life more than it does right now. The IP that still has many fervent fans. My final two straws? The lack of any exposure at PAX West and the lack of enthusiasm for this year’s expansions.
Daybreak did it again. Boy, that phrase has come to mean a great many different things over the years. However, in this case it refers to the art of dropping some bombshell that makes me toss aside whatever I was working on for the week and focus on that explosion — and the resulting fallout. Sometimes it’s good. And sometimes it’s not. This time around we fell dead center into the “not” category. We are losing Landmark.
Remember when I said Daybreak needed a win this year? This is the opposite of that. This is Daybreak choking the last bit of hope and goodwill out of players like Vader faced with a lackey’s lack of faith. Disturbing, I know. Well, gee folks, Happy New Year? Forget about breaking games; I can’t help but agree that a more befitting moniker would be Sunset Games.
Last week, we reported on the news that Daybreak President Russell Shanks, who had been the President of the company ever since John Smedley resigned last year, apparently left back in October, being replaced at least in part by Columbus Nova exec Ji Ham, whose Linkedin suggested he’s been a Co-President of Daybreak since July of 2015 and now is apparently Acting President. As of this evening, we now have confirmation of those facts — and little more.
“Daybreak Games confirms that Russ Shanks has recently stepped down from his position at Daybreak to pursue other interests,” a representative for Daybreak told us tonight. “Ji Ham will continue as acting president of the company.”
Columbus Nova is the investment company that picked up Sony’s unwanted SOE branch last year when the studio was spun off and rebranded as Daybreak. In light of the “acting” terminology, it remains unclear whether Ji Ham is a permanent installation or a new president will be selected to replace Shanks in the future.
Wilhelm over at The Ancient Gaming Noob has dug up what appears to be juicy Daybreak news. According to entries on Linkedin and Wikipedia, Russell Shanks, who had been the President of the company ever since John Smedley resigned last year, apparently left back in October, being replaced at least in part by Columbus Nova exec Ji Ham, who’s now listed as having been a Co-President of Daybreak since July of 2015 and now is apparently Acting President.
You might remember Shanks from such gems as “Daybreak is discontinuing development of EverQuest Next” because “we found that it wasn’t fun.”
Columbus Nova, on the other hand, is the investment company that picked up Sony’s unwanted SOE branch last year when the studio got the Daybreak rebrand.
We’ve reached out to Daybreak for more information on the studio’s leadership structure. Nice work, TAGN. We say at least 8 points (and don’t forget Jack Emmert).